By Upali Obeyesekere
The sports scene in schools sparkled in the 1950-60 era that witnessed a slow transition of rugby taking the edge over cricket from a spectator interest standpoint. It is interesting to step back and reminisce how and why rugby took pride and priority over cricket. During the period under review, horse racing was the most popular spectator sport in our island nation. Then, in 1956, horse racing was banned by the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and this decision caused the demise of the popular Ceylon Turf Club.
The thrill-seekers and horse racing fans faced a major dilemma. A political decision had taken their favourite sport from them in front of their eyes. The Colombo elite and horse racing fans needed an alternative and turned to rugby for their “adrenalin rush”. In this backdrop, spectator interest in school rugby took a new turn post-1956, and became the glamour sport. However, cricket had its faithful fans who thronged to the school grounds to watch their alma mater in action. Around this period in time, St Peter’s College produced two outstanding sports stars – Premasiri Athukorale and Anton Perera. The duo made an indelible mark in the annals of their alma mater’s sporting history.
Fast forwarding to 2015, we are caught up in the hype of celebrating the appointment of Angelo Mathews, the first Josephian to captain the national side. It is equally important to go down memory lane and recall a few exceptional performances by a few sports starts of yesteryear. True they did not reach “national status” but we still marvel at the outstanding performances of these two gifted sportsmen.
Premasiri Athukorale and Anton Perera played for St Peter`s College from 1957 to 1960. The Peterites were led by Jayantha Fernando in 1957. “Athu” as he was popularly known had an awesome baptism into the school side and created history by scoring half-centuries in three “big matches” against the Josephians in 1957, 1958 and 1960. In his first year, Athu scored 85 in the first innings and 52 in the second. In 1958, under skipper Russel Duckworth, Athu scored 89. In 1960, Premasiri Athukorale was given the honour of captaining the Peterite team (second non-catholic to captain St Peter’s College after George Jayaweera) and played a captain`s innings of 81 runs. He was a classy batsman who had some fluent strokes all-round the wicket. His square-cut was a work of art and earned him many runs. Upon leaving school, he dabbled a bit in club cricket but lost his sense of direction later in life. Sadly, Athu never lived up to the image he earned as one of the finest schoolboy cricketers produced by St Peter`s College, and passed away quite early in life. Schools cricket had its faithful fans who thronged to the school grounds to watch their alma mater in action.
Anton Perera was a household name in the late 1950s and early ’60’s. An exceptionally talented all-round sportsman, Anton broke into the limelight in 1957 as an athlete and cricketer. He was only 15 years old at the time. Anton was a legend at St Peter’s College. He was one of the most celebrated sports icons who left an indelible mark on the Peterite landscape as a talented athlete, exceptional cricketer who also played rugby until his coach Jackie van Twest advised him not to play as it would hurt his athletics.
Anton also was a good tennis player and I am not quite sure if he represented college, at the Public Schools Championships. His father was a tennis player of national repute. Blessed with a strong physique, Anton captained the Under 16 athletics team to win the Junior Tarbat Trophy at the All-Island Schools Athletic Championships. He was a Public School champion in the Discus, Javelin and Putt Shot. He also performed well in the 100m and did the sprint relays.
This was a time the Peterites had a crack athletics team. In 1957 he captained the junior athletics team that went on to win the Junior Tarbat at the Public Schools Championships. Desmond Moraes, Rontjen Perera and Linus Jayawardane (since departed) were the other members of the team. Some names of Peterite athletes
during his time who come to mind are Ranjit Wijeyesekere, Ranjit Weerasena, David Van Dort, Errol de Silva, brothers Andrew and Godfrey Goonetilleke, Rontjen Perera, Neville Salvador, E.L. Fernando, N.B. Wilson, Didacus de Almeida, Roger Wright, Kevin Ruberu, Vinitha Rakajaruna, Carlyle Rudolph, Ranjith Alwis, brothers Winston and Stafford Tambimuttu, and a host of others of repute who later joined the Ace Athletic Club or CT & FC.
It was as a cricketer that Anton was best known and remembered, as a fiery pace bowler. His baptism into the Peterite team was in 1957, at the age of 15, under the captaincy of Jayantha Fernando. In the big match, Anton clean bowled opener Claude Perera and then took out two prolific Josephian batsmen Priya Perera and Tissa de Soysa. He had match figures of 3 for 69 in his first big match that was drawn.
This writer cannot remember which year, but Anton caused a sensation at the SPC vs Ananda game. He took 8 for 21 and at least six Anandian players were injured. The following year, the Peterites had a rough time at Campbell Place when they met Ananda. I believe police were at hand to ensure no brawls took place. Anton also had a sensational 7 for 11 against the Thomians at Mt. Lavinia. During this time, he was rated the fastest schoolboy bowler in Ceylon with Ananda`s Sonny Yatawara coming a close second. Anton’s opening partners were Maurice Deckker (1960), Desmond Dharmaraja (1958/1959) and Anton Paulpillai (1957). Anton best partnered with Maurice Deckker when the Peterites had the most fiery opening bowling attack at the time in school cricket. Cricket at St Peter`s enjoyed a super period in the 1950s and ’60s – a galaxy of stars who represented the school by the canal. Anton`s teammates who played alongside him were David Muthumani, Nihal Wijesena, Darrel D’Silva, Jayantha Fernando, Brian Seneviratne, Russel Duckworth, Lakshman Serasinghe, Premasiri Athukorale, Christy Marthalingam, Anton Paulpillai, Randy Layman, Adiel Anghie, Desmond Dharmaraja, Elmo Gunasekara, Richard Alles, Mark de Silva, Richard Heyn, Tyrone Le Mercier, Maurice Deckker, and Didacus de Almeida.
Anton played Club Cricket briefly for SSC while in school and would have certainly played for All-Ceylon had he not left for California in 1962 at the age of 20.
He lived in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California with his wife Marlene and their three children. He was involved in developing and promoting cricket in Southern California in the 1960s and played locally with Dr Tony Don Michael (another Peterite),Thomian Dr M.L. Idroos (STC), Dr C. Balakrishnan (Jaffna Hindu), and a host of other players who made California their home in the post- ’60s. Sadly, Anton passed away in California, in February 2014, from complications arising from a serious medical condition.